Future Man and Spears dance percussive electronica all around

Special to Black Mountain News
Black Mountain News | USA TODAY NETWORK
Roy "Future Man" Wooten has recently created a symphonic  work, "Chevalier: II Play & II Fight," with The Black Mozart Ensemble.

Kalimba virtuoso Kevin Spears and Roy “Future Man” Wooten team up for an uplifting tour de force show of danceable percussive electronica at White Horse Black Mountain on Sunday, May 6.

The 7:30 p.m. show will be a performance of futurist world music, individually and in dual improvisations. Tickets are $15 advance/$18 door.

In Spears' hands,the ancient African thumb piano journeys through an electronic landscape to emerge as a powerful voice for both tradition and innovation. The basic idea is simple: a row of springy tuned metal strips fastened to a wooden sound box and plucked with the thumbs, producing an almost xylophone like tone. But Spears’ virtuosic technique and wide ranging musical vision are anything but simple.

Spears first spotted the kalimba in 1974 in a photo of the late Maurice White on an Earth, Wind and Fire album cover, and it soon became the focus of his life. As his gigs moved into larger venues the use of a pickup for amplification became a must. His introduction of electronic timbres and effects mushroomed, becoming a signature component of Spears’ compositions. His kalimba pieces include composed and improvisational elements, with rhythmic, bass and chordal loops layered to create a platform for soloing. Digital magic makes the kalimba sound like a bass, electric guitar, a horn section, electric piano and various percussion instruments, transforming Spears into a one-man orchestra.

Five-time Grammy winner Roy “Future Man” Wooten is best known for his iconic work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, playing alongside Fleck, a trailblazing banjoist, multi-instrumentalist Howard Levy, and older brother Victor Wooten, a virtuoso bass player. Stalking the stage decked out like a high-tech pirate, he taps out intricate drum patterns on his Synthaxe Drumitar. The dizzying array of buttons on his instrument, which resembles an alien guitar, allows him to trigger sounds from a synthesizer module that can range from standard drum kit timbres to world percussion and regions where no sound has gone before. Wooten is essentially able to use each finger as a separate drumstick, enabling him to conjure up elaborate polyrhythms in real time.

In addition to performing and composing, Future Man, also known as RoyEl or Futche to his many fans, is also an inventor. His current project is “The RoyEl”, a piano-shaped instrument with keys laid out to resemble the periodic table of the elements.